When Minnesota's Cold Weather Rule expires today, help is still available for people struggling to pay utility bills.

The rule, in effect from Oct. 15 to April 15, protects consumers from having their primary heating source shut off during the winter.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce said Tuesday that it will accept applications for energy assistance until July 2. And money is still available to help Minnesota families, because the federal government doubled the amount of money -- to $168 million-- available for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program for this winter.

CenterPoint Energy, which supplies natural gas, has about 200,000 customers who owe $58 million in past-due natural gas bills, according to spokeswoman Becca Virden. Last year at this time, about the same number of customers owed $68 million.

Pat Boland of Xcel Energy, which provides natural gas and electricity, said about 100,000 residential customers are more than 31 days behind in their bills and owe a total of $38.9 million, similar to last year's numbers.